Spend a few minutes chatting with Earth Tu Face cofounder, Sarah Busco, and you’ll feel inspired to go outdoors, plant something, weed something, feel the dirt between your fingers and put flowers in your hair. There’s a powerful effervescence to this scholarly self-proclaimed hippie whose thoughtfully crafted green beauty products we can’t get enough of, especially, The Honey + Coconut Mask. (Yes, it’s here in Japan with us now. No way we were going to leave it at home.) Sarah hopes Earth Tu Face will bring out your inner environmentalist and show you that products made with everything in mind from – what happens when it goes on your skin, down the drain, and into the trash – can be beautiful, efficacious and at the end of the day better for our planet. Read on for our interview with Sarah where we discuss – her time studying with a Mayan healer in the Yucatan, why you should watch out for certain essential oils, the best ingredients for fighting acne naturally, her thoughts on our youth culture and what’s next for Earth Tu Face.
“I was born and raised in the Bay Area. My parents were both hippies turned professionals and it was important for my dad that we grew most of our own produce, so I was raised on organic food. I was raised playing outside and learning how to garden with a total appreciation for plants, flowers, growing vegetables, weeding, worms and dirt. That was my playground more than dolls or toys. My childhood games with friends revolved around making things from the garden. We would have games where we would make creative gifts with flowers and berries, pile them up under a tree and give each other gifts. I never knew that I would be making skincare products like I am today, but in a funny way it’s really symbolic.
Growing up I was allergic to a lot. My parents found out when I was a baby that I was born allergic to everything except for 100% cotton. Any kind of cotton blend with polyester, even if it has 2% polyester and the rest cotton would give me eczema. My dad is an ER doctor, so he was able to diagnosis it right away. My mom started making me 100% cotton baby clothes for me in a polyester era. And then growing up it was sort of the canary in the coal mine. I found out I couldn’t eat gluten when I was eighteen, which is an embarrassing long time ago, and I had allergies to most topical things. I couldn’t wear most eye shadows, makeup or sunscreens on my face. They would give me eczema instantly and my eyes would swell. When I was sleeping over at friends’ houses, and this was back when everyone was into Victoria’s Secret and everyone had pear or apple lotions, I would be completely allergic to all of that. Everyone was into 90s eye shadow at the time and there was no way I could use it. Nothing from a department store and nothing from a drug store, so I started using olive oil on my face and I started making my own concoctions from the time I got out of high school until I embarked onto college.
I always had an interest in herbalism and holistic healing and I loved western medicine as well, I still do, but I feel like there is a time and place for each. I focused on studying indigenous medicine in my undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz and how it is being affected by globalization. I worked with a Mayan healer for three months in the middle of the Yuctan and then I spent three months working for an organization of indigenous doctors in San Cristobal De La Casa in Chiapas making efforts to support indigenous medicine. They were both such amazing experiences.
We have made some amazing strides in western medicine but no form of health and healing is perfect and nothing works for all people all of the time. Some approaches are really vital and important in every type of health system, so it’s unwise for us to let those traditions die because they are vital to the communities they serve and the larger community as a whole.
Within Mexico there are so many indigenous groups and dialects and healing styles. And that’s just in Mexico alone. While I was in the Yucatan, I was working with a midwife and healer. She might have more practices in common with Belize versus other areas of Mexico, but one thing that stood out and is common among most indigenous people on the planet is they believe that – if you try to patent an active principle of a plant for medicine, they believe that it takes the power away from the plant source. I would say their indigenous practices were very energetic. A lot of the health imbalances and illnesses we were looking at are seen as picking up maladies, bad energy from situations, or other people. That you need to work with the spirits to fix the imbalances as well as the use of medicinal plants. It’s about treatments to heal the mind, body and the soul.
EARTH TU FACE
After finishing my undergraduate degree I studied herbal medicine at Maloney in Berkeley for three years and it was just a constant love: I studied essential oils, massage and so many different things. I wanted to be a nurse practitioner, but while I was working at UCSF in the emergency department getting hours, I was making my own products at the same time. My friend and I made some labels for the products I was making and we started giving them away. I was asked to teach about product making a couple of times at the herbal school where I studied and then a boutique in Napa basically bought up my whole product supply. I kinda had an ‘Aha’ moment and said, if I’m going to do this I need to do it in a way that is scaleable, accessible and sustainable for the environment and that started in 2009.
At that time everything was hand made, but only about half of our line is hand made now. When we launched we had three different face balm type of creams, we had three different salt scrubs, but there are some products that are actually identical to what we offer today. The Face Balm is in our original formulation. The Skin Stick just has a different package now, and the Face Wash is almost identical. The face oils, the lotions and Shower Gel were later additions and the solid perfumes, but the core line – the Salt Scrub, Coconut Body Butter, the Face Balm, Face Wash and Skin Stick are very core. The only difference is that when we were hand making all of the products by hand we had the ability to harvest plants from our garden, peel leaves and flowers, dry them and infuse them into oils and then make the products from infused oils and essential oils. But now, we just use our garden to grow lavender, roses and calendula. We grow them, dry them and put them into our two face masks – the honey mask and the powder mask.
We are still using the garden but we can’t use it for the entire line; It’s just not feasible, so we concentrate on what does really well and what is effective and happy. We mostly harvest spring summer and fall. In the winter it grows back and is dormant. Our garden is about a third of an acre plot. We concentrate on lavender buds, calendula flowers and heritage roses – all different kinds of roses. I love roses. I have an obsession.
In regards to preservatives, we took a multiple prong approach. In all of our products except for the lotion we don’t use water, so it’s not a breading ground for bacteria and then the essential oils and the sunflower derived real Vitamin E keep them shelf stable. The products can last for a really long time, like three years or much longer.
Lotions are different. They’re literally a whipped oil and water, so they need emulsifiers and they need preservatives. We couldn’t get around that, so we use a food grade emulsifier commonly found in cheese and wine. We are playing with using rosemary extract moving forward, which is in some of our products and is a great preservative.
The Earth Tu Face Honey + Coconut Mask and the powder clay mask neither have water and the shelf life of both is very stable – years and years. The honey mask will probably last thirty years. Honey is used for embalming. I mean, you can open up a jar of honey from 400 years ago and eat it and not get sick. Nothing can grow in there it’s so antibacterial. But I’m talking about raw honey, not adulterated. Once you heat it and break the bonds it’s not stable anymore.
When it comes to essential oils you are basically taking pounds of plant material and steam distilling it into ounces or a pound of essential oils. They are extremely powerful. It’s so much plant on your skin at once. The active parts of the plants. And the term essential oils is actually misleading, because they have a different density than oil or water. Their particles are so small they actually absorb into your skin. I used to teach classes on essential oils and I used to say if you take a little piece of garlic and you cut it in half and you rub it on the bottom your foot, a half hour later you will taste the garlic on your tongue. What you are tasting is the essential oil of the garlic. It absorbs through your skin and absorbs into the body.
Essential oils are really powerful medicine and like any powerful medicine they have to be used with care from someone who has training with formulation. Sometimes I get worried when I see all of these green companies popping up that not everyone formulating the products might really understand which essential oils are good for the skin and which ones are not, like some essential oils cause photosensitivity. For example bergamot can do that, but if you get betaine-free bergamot then you don’t run that risk as much, but I believe bergamot should be used in products that are washed away. You get a wonderful infusion of the oil, but it doesn’t just sit on your skin in an oil or cream. Just like plants in herbal medicine some essential oils are tonics, meaning that overtime some can strengthen your skin and strengthen your overall health. While other ones are just for acute situations, like you use it when you have a burn or a rash and you don’t use it all the time. You just use a little bit because they are so potent. Essential oils obviously have to be diluted and can never be used directly on the skin.
It’s a misnomer to call essential oils ‘oils.’ When I’m talking about carrier oils in our products, I’m talking about cold pressed, virgin, organic oils, like coconut, hemp oil, or olive oil. These are oils we use. We don’t use nut oils because they’re too allergenic. We don’t use soy or palm because it is not sustainable or any of its derivatives. We are really cognizant of what is going into our bodies, how sustainable it is for the plant and how healthy it is for the people using it. We think about every aspect from the packaging of the product to what is in it, what happens to it once it goes down the drain, what happens when it goes into your body and what happens to it once you’re done with the product – can you reuse it? can you compost it? can you recycle it? – so like I said, with organic getting really big and really trendy it’s good because people are stepping away from harmful chemicals, but the danger to me is that a lot of people might be throwing things together without knowing a lot about it and that could cause a lot of reactions.
All essential oils are antimicrobial and antibacterial, but they are not eliminating bacteria in the same way as using a topical pharmaceutical antibiotic would. If the acne is accompanied by inflammation, what’s great about essential oils is they have antibacterial properties but won’t wipe out all of the healthy bacteria on your face and they are doing other things as well, like anti-inflammation and speeding up the healing. Some essential oils can actually speed the healing of tissues and cells.
For example in our Face Balm we use immortelle, which does this as well as lavender. Sea buckthorn isn’t an essential oil, but it also does this. It’s the oil from berries, and was used on Chernobyl victims to help them major burns heal. Lavender oil is also amazing for burns. Essential oils are incredible but just like anything else they have to be used in the right amount. You don’t want to just douse them all over just because they’re good. You want your body to be able to work with the healing aspects of the plants.
And oils are important for acne. It’s so counterintuitive because I grew up in the oil-free era of Clearasil, but I’ve seen people clear their acne with our Earth Tu Face Face Balm which is counterintuitive since it’s our most moisturizing, most hydrating product. When using it you wash your face clean, get all of the impurities off your face, use a toner like our rose water and aloe and then when your face is still wet you use a little bit of the Face Balm spreading it all over. It’s calming and soothing to your skin. We need oils to heal our skin.
It depends on the season, but I always use our Face Wash morning and night. I use our rose toner, which I have by my bed. I’m in my mid thirties so my skin is drier, but in the winter, dry areas or when I’m going on a plane I always use the Face Balm. In the summer months or if I’m in a warmer area, I use the Face Serum as my moisturizer. I feel like skincare is like having a wardrobe and doing what you need for the right season. With your skincare routine you have to assess how your skin feels and the weather to figure out what you need.
I definitely use masks. For me, the honey mask is where it’s at. I never travel without it. When I use it it makes my skin feel plumper and more even; It’s an immediate result. It contains raw honey, flowers from the garden, coconut and essential oils. It’s really great for acne and so is our clay mask.
When I bathe or shower I use the Earth Tu Face Shower Gel and the Earth Tu Face Face Wash. I love our Salt Scrub. It’s a lymphatic stimulator and is molded after Ayurvedic traditions. The salt scrubbing moves your lymph and when you wash it away it leaves moisturizing oils on your skin.
I am such a hippie that doesn’t look like one. I mean really, I love putting flowers and leaves in my hair. I have gotten myself into trouble because I’ll be out hiking and I’ll get attacked by a bug or a bee or whatever that is just loving me because it thinks I’m a plant because I have so many plants and things sticking out of my hair.
I eat organically. That’s really important to me. I cook a lot of my own food and I’m really into making stocks and broths right now. I am an avid mushroom hunter, majorly. I go all over Northern California from Oakland where I live and hunt for edible mushrooms. I’m talking chanterelles, Candy Caps, oyster mushrooms, Lion’s Mane, porcini and Blue Its. I love mushrooms because they are so good for your immune system. I’m not talking portobellos or button mushrooms right now, I’m talking about wild mushrooms. I cook with them, dry them and use them in stocks and broths. I believe in getting a lot of your medicinal needs from your food. I think a whole balanced diet is really important. I’m not into fad diets, that’s just me personally.
I juice in the summer. (Juice cleanses?) No, I don’t do juice cleanses. I try to be gentler on my body. What I mean is in the summer I’ll try to juice once a week, so I’ll make a batch of juice from fresh vegetables, turmeric, lemon, ginger with cucumber and a little celery and sometimes steamed kale; I steam it before I juice it because it’s more digestible that way. Maybe add some lettuces and then I’ll just keep a few jars in my fridge and have them as a little boost between meals that feels really good and healthy. I am an avid tea drinker. I still grow a ton of medicinal plants and grow them for tea and literally have like hundreds of jars of dry plants in my house. If you came to my house, you would see I have a space in my house that is like an apothecary where there are plants drying and jars of this and that.
I think we deserve every wrinkle on our beautiful faces. To me the tragedy of a youth obsessed culture is that it takes power away from women to do something amazing and passionate in their lives. It takes from their souls. We get so caught up in having to wear the right thing or look the right way or be the right size, and we don’t concentrate on what our goals are, what we want to bring to the earth, and the lives we want to live. I think it is really disempowering to women and we really need to unite in sisterhood and embrace each other as we are and work together in collaboration towards making the planet better. We are already beautiful and we all are inherently powerful, and when we are coming from a place of wholeness and contribution there is no better feeling.
Honestly it changes. I want Earth Tu Face to keep growing. I want everyone to have access to green skincare, which is one reason we launched Cosmo Botanicals this year; It’s an organic line at a more accessible price point. It’s four products, but it’s basically a paired down version of our Earth Tu Face line. We want an answer to accessibility because it costs a lot to make products with the ingredients we use for Earth Tu Face, make them in California, either hand made or at a facility that is certified organic and somewhat small batch, so naturally the end price point is more than what most people can step into. But we wanted there to be a way for everybody to step into green beauty with a truly beautifully formulated product, so we created Cosmos Botanicals.
I just want things to keep growing. I want to keep partnering with great businesses, and just keep getting the word out there that we are all environmentalists at heart because we all want a sustainable future for the planet, for the next generation and for each other. And that making good decisions for the planet and yourself with green beauty is one of the best things you can do for yourself and everyone.
When I was young I felt a little bit, well, I was looking for the answer to – what am I going to do with my life. I knew I wanted to do something positive for the planet, but I didn’t know what it was going to look like. I spent so much time fretting about that and studying. The studying part is great and I’m not just talking about in college, but studying all of the things that I really care about in-depth and taking it seriously. I think that is really important. Whatever you are passionate about – study it and take it seriously, and work with people who have been walking the road a little bit longer because there is nothing more valuable than learning from their experiences and tying us together intergenerational. And know that if you are coming from a place of integrity and truly a place of thinking about the greater good what you decide to do is going to be powerful and magical. I feel like that’s the only way to live.
Life has its ups and downs, and if you are going into business or entrepreneurship my advice is try not to get swayed by the downs or the ups. Try to be in the middle. You could get the best news ever or the worst news ever and you still have to try to keep an even keel because things do go up and down. There are twists and turns in the road, but know that if you work hard and have integrity it is all going to work out. You have support behind you. The world is behind you and we are all in this together.”
as told to BOND EN AVANT; Photographed by Wing Ta